Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Trois Couleurs

November 08, 2010

Grant Gershon and members of the LA Master Chorale Photo: mine 2010

The Los Angeles Master Chorale continued its current season, the tenth under music director Grant Gershon, on Sunday night. This season’s programs have been packaged around a “nations of the world” theme, and last night the focus was on French composers. The performance was dominated by composers from the 16th Century, well before the invention of the Tricolor flag featured on the cover of the evening’s program. Gershon has aggressively and rightly pushed the Chorale to form more contemporary music and new commissions and this evening was a reminder of how well they manage some core choral repertory works. Best of all it was an a capella evening where the chorale is able to soar without the weight of an ad hoc orchestra ensemble.

The evening started with Josquin’s Missa de Beata Virgine whose movements were interlaced with Duruflé’s Quatre Motets sur des Thèmes Gréforiens. Gershon noted from the stage that movements in a mass are rarely performed in a continuous sequence as they are in most secular settings, so interspersing Josquin’s 16th-century music with Duruflé’s 20th-century take on music from the same period made sense. The change between the two composers’ works was in fact less pronounced than one might think. And while the chorus perhaps could have used a little more fine tuning in rehearsal, the diction was good and the sound was beautiful.

After the break came a grab bag of 16th-century chanson, both sacred and profane. The works ranged from the familiar, Passereau’s Il est bel et bon, to the poignant, Phinot’s pleurez mes yeux, to the ribald and comic, Sermisy’s Martin menait son pourceau. (The last number here concerns the problems two young country lovers encounter securing a piglet so they can sneak off for a quick roll in the hay.) The set ended with feats of technical wizardry from the chorale with Janequin’s Le Chant des Oiseaux in which the vocalists weave and intermingle through a series of various bird sounds. This great fun was followed by Ravel’s Trois Chansons, which were a little less picturesque and a bit more pointed, considering the time of their composition during WWI. It’s evenings like these that continues to make the Los Angeles Master Chorale one of the best Sunday nights in town.


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